Perhaps you’re signed up for a writers’ conference and have meticulously researched and specifically targeted agents to pitch at the advertised “Pitch Fest” or “Agent Speed Dating” session. Or maybe you’ve been to an agent pitch session once before and came away without one request for your project.
Here are some tips to help you as you approach and pitch —whether for the first or six hundredth time—an agent:
1) Relax. I know—an easy thing to say, harder to do. After having been spilled on with water, tea, and various other beverages, and sat through countless shakily-read pitches wherein the author didn’t look up at me once, I know how deep an author’s anxiety can run when pitching an agent. As with anything, pitching does get easier with experience, and chances are, if you gingerly admit “I’m really nervous,” the agent sitting across the table from you is far more likely to offer you an understanding smile and gently ask you to proceed than bite your head off before you get two words out.
2) Resist the urge to read your pitch. Whether you’ve carefully edited every word of your pitch and read it dozens of times over, or simply scribbled a few keywords before meeting an agent, you may find that when you finally sit down with said agent, your nerves suddenly feel just too fragile to simply tell the agent about your project, and your eyes go straight to the page. Resist this. Many authors ask me “Can I just read my pitch?” and I will never say no, but realize that this can lessen the strength of your project, and your faith in it, in an agent’s eyes. Also, the lack of eye contact with the agent can tempt her mind to wander. The best thing to do is to not write out your pitch verbatim, but practice saying your pitch plenty of times before meeting with the agent, writing down only keywords to trigger your memory if, in the moment, your mind suddenly goes blank.
3) If you’re pitching fiction, don’t tell too much about your plot. Your pitch is not a book report! Stick to the important things: the book’s title, genre, word count, its hook, basic premise, main character(s) and some details of the high points of the story, including the climax and resolution. If you go on for the equivalent of paragraphs and paragraphs of plot detail, you risk making the agent’s eyes glaze over—especially if he has already heard dozens of pitches that day. If an agent needs more information and there’s still time left in your pitch, he will ask you for it.
4) Show your book biz savvy. In today’s publishing climate, it’s increasingly important for authors to understand what platform is—and how to build it—and follow, to the best of their ability, trends in publishing to make sure what they’re pitching is current. It also helps to know what other books could be compared to yours, and how yours fits or is different within that genre or category. If you can relevantly demonstrate this knowledge to an agent somewhere throughout the pitch, you will show her that you are serious about what it takes to become published.